So, last week I posted that I was going to get back into the habit of blogging. Finals week caught up with me and knocked that idea straight out of my head for a while, but with all that behind us, let me return with the post I intended to write: A review of the new Metrolink Guardian Fleet.
Last week, Metrolink took the new Hyundai-Rotem-made cars on a tour about the southland, and I joined them for the Monday leg of the tour in the San Fernando Valley.
First off, these cars are quite a sight to behold. The stainless steel cars, painted in the new aqua-wave colour scheme, stand out among the white Bombardier coaches at Union Station. The aesthetic is almost like one of Amtrak's Superliner consists, and I've always thought those were quite sleek and shiny. (Never mind the fact that many are nearly 40 years old.) The crash energy management bit of the cab car is a touch ugly, but another railfan suggested that it was designed to look like a locomotive in order to discourage the clueless from thinking the train was moving away from them.
The new interior colour scheme is also a refreshing change, from the increasingly drab purple-and-grey coaches to a cabin full of bright blues. Not only do the new seats look better, but they're more comfortable as well- or, at least, they will be. The foam still needs some time to break down. The headrests are high enough that 182cm (6') tall me is finally able to rest my head on them- something not possible in the old cars for me. On-board amenities haven't changed at all- you're still offered drinking water, one restroom per car and electrical outlets. For those of you who want to charge up that phone or get some work done on your laptop, outlets are located at four seats on the lower level (towards the end of the car), as well as at each table on the mezzanine and upper levels. The new restroom is much larger, and the toilet flush no longer sounds as if it is connected to the intake of a small jet engine. One quibble, though- the A/C unit in the cars is rather loud, especially on the upper level.
One of the nicest things about the new cars is the new high-intensity amber directional signs. You'll notice that the signs give train number, origin and destination stations in clear, bright yellow. Metrolink riders will immediately notice the contrast with the current dull, dim green signs that don't provide origin or train numbers. These will be especially helpful at terminal stations like San Bernardino and Riverside-Downtown, where the sheer number of parked trains often confuses infrequent riders. Also in the "better wayfinding for passengers" category, the new trains are equipped with automated announcements in clear, precise English. While the exhortations not to put your feet on the seats every few stops can get old (especially when your train is running express from LA Union to Moorpark), the new automated announcements will most certainly be a welcome antidote to broken or inaudible PA systems, or that one conductor who everybody's had at least once- "Nrmms srmrmmr Rrmrmmrmmrmm Dermmrmrmrm."
The safety aspect of the new cars is what Metrolink and other news outlets are playing up, and that's fine. This is an excellent move to pander to a media and public culture that sees a train crash every few years and thinks "Oh my stars, the train is so very dangerous that I better drive!" Of course, rail travel remains the safest way to travel in the country, by a HUGE margin, but the purchase of these new cars (which are sorely needed on capacity grounds anyway) should go some distance towards assuaging the anxieties of a car-crazed region. Personally, I feel much safer on any given Metrolink car than in my own auto, any time of the day, any day of the week.
As far as the actual trip? It was far too much fun. The train was mostly empty, but those who showed up were either press or fellow railfans. We had some 10 cameras out at Moorpark station recording the northbound Coast Starlight. 'Twas fun. Also, we did get to tour both the crumple zone bit at the front of the cab car, and the cab itself (which is on the upper level rather than the mezzanine in the new cars). Want to know what the engineer's view looks like?
More photos on FlickRiR, and a very brief quote from yours truly at the LA Daily News. I wish she'd tossed in a URL.